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Durango restaurant owner, executive chef dies at age 44

Primus opened in 2019 on Main Avenue
John Daly, executive chef and co-owner of Primus in Durango, grills a bison tomahawk on June 26, 2019. Daly was found dead last month at his home east of Bayfield. The restaurant has since reopened. (Jerry McBride/Durango Herald file)
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John Daly, executive chef and co-owner of Primus Restaurant on Main Avenue in Durango, was found dead last month at his home east of Bayfield.

La Plata County Coroner Jann Smith said a formal cause of death had not been declared as of Monday, but it appears Daly had a fatty liver – possibly from excessive alcohol consumption over the years – that contributed to his death.

Daly, 44, died early Nov. 9 after experiencing seizures, Smith said. His wife found him slumped over on a couch and unresponsive, she said.

The restaurant closed for about a week but has since reopened, according to the restaurant’s Facebook page.

“After a week of tears and heartache, we are opening the doors in honor of our beloved chef, as we know he would not have wanted it any other way,” the post reads. “Please join us to pay tribute, laugh and cheers our wonderful Chef.”

Efforts to reach staff members and family members were not immediately successful.

Daly and his wife, Kerry, opened Primus in June 2019 in a narrow, 1,440-square-foot building that used to house Doc Hathaway’s Café and Skinny’s Grill at 1017 Main Ave.

The restaurant specializes in seafood and wild game with locally sourced ingredients – “top quality crafted food without the price tag of fine dining,” according to its website. The average price for entrees is $49, and the average price for wild game plates is $79.

Kerry Daly, co-owner of Primus restaurant, and her husband, John Daly. John Daly was found dead last month. (Jerry McBride/Durango Herald file)

Daly and his wife moved to Durango from Denver for its slower lifestyle and to be closer to his father, who lives in Bloomfield.

Daly said he grew up on a farm where he and his family could live off the land. That sparked a lifelong interest in self-sustainable and self-subsistent food.

“We make everything from the ground up,” Daily said in June 2019. “We make our own mayonnaise, our own ketchup, our own pickles, our own mustard – everything – because we don’t buy anything.”

The restaurant had a tough beginning. It opened shortly before the COVID-19 pandemic and then experienced a flood in summer 2020, as other restaurants were emerging from COVID shutdown restrictions. The flood destroyed floors, walls, ceiling, hardwood and a bathroom – forcing the restaurant to close for three months.

Smith said Daly had been “stressed” because the restaurant was struggling.

Tim Walsworth, executive director of the Durango Business Improvement District, said Daly and his wife invested heavily in the building to create the kind of atmosphere they wanted.

“They worked really hard to get that building up and then they had floods,” Walsworth said. “ … It's some pretty high-end, really, really amazing food.”


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